What should you do if you don’t like the way your club is run?
This is a story of two clubs at the opposite end of the spectrum. One with millions of fans worldwide, one hardly known outside its locality. One with the biggest debt ever seen in football, determined to carry on as always, one starting out afresh with the fans at the helm.
You might ask what the hell this has got to do with Arsenal – and if could if you don’t want to read about the wider issues of football and finance, you can look away now. But on a day when there is widespread rumour that there is a secret FA report on club debt which reflects on a horror situation, it is worth thinking about, in my opinion.
After all, Portsmouth have gone, Hull look to be about to go, and there are several others in the EPL utterly on the edge. The old notion of a patriarch pumping money into a club year after year to keep it afloat is being challenged by Uefa, and it is possible that within a year or so a number of clubs will have to re-think their approach to finance, although by the time they do I suspect we will have a number more that like Liverpool, start to sink under their own debts.
So first, Chester City, a club that was raped by its owners whose only interest was in getting hold of the ground and making money out of it. Civil war broke out and the club stopped playing earlier this year as the fans stepped up their protest, and it was removed from the Conference.
Chester Council have now approved a rebirth of the club through a fans group, City Fans United and offered them a five year lease on the council owned stadium.
What happened is curious: aside from the fans group there was another group trying to get hold of the club: a Danish Consortium, Fodbold Selskabet. The council chose between the two and effectively offered the franchise to play football at their ground to the fans’ group.
The Danish group are interesting. Why, one might ask, would they want to buy the right to a football club in Cheshire? Apparently they have “some very innovative ideas and financial support, both immediate and potential,” according to the council. But whether they are now on the prowl, looking for other clubs they might buy, we don’t know.
“CFU have promised a club ‘run by the community for the community’ with
a multi-sport approach designed to reach all sections of our society
from the young to the disadvantaged,” the council said.
According to the website www.twohundredpercent.net the key point in the favour of the fans’ club was that if the council gave a lease to the Danes then the fans would move out and found another club leaving what they call a group of “imposters” in their place at The Deva Stadium.
It hasn’t been easy for those who wanted to throw out the corrupt old regime. The fans were driven to invading the pitch during a game against Eastbourne to make their protest heard, and the courts fined those people £150 each, and gave them each a three year banning order. However the banning order only applies to the Conference and upwards, so the fans should be able to watch Chester in the future. (There is talk of them applying to go into the Welsh League, even though they are in England).
So in the end what we have is a local council plus local community project, to rebuild a club that used to be in the Football League – which is exactly what should be going on. It takes us back to the early days of football – local club owned and run by local people, with recognition and support from the local council.
Compare and contrast, if you will, with Manchester United. They have a new club, FC United of Manchester, and the local council there is building them a new ground too.
But of course the old club lingers, and apparently yesterday another “secretive Middle East consortium” bid £1.5bn for the club, but the Glazer’s rejected the bid. And the word is (but of course as with all these things, all I can do is pass on what people tell me, so I can’t verify anything) that there have been other bids approaching this level as well. It seems the Glazers reckon they can get their management salaries out of the club for another ten years, and then flog it.
It also doesn’t auger well for the Red Knights group which is offering only about half of the amount being spoken of today, and it suggests that the only way of getting the Glazers out, would be with supporter activity of the type that Chester City fans engaged in – interrupting games, refusing to take up tickets and the like. (Not that I am suggesting that anyone should do anything illegal).
Another story is that the owners at Man IOU are now planning another refinancing of their debts in 2017. What is making them particularly positive is that the bond issue was, in the end, very over-subscribed (even though this only seemed to happen after the interest rate was raised). On this basis, it seems that the money will keep rolling in.
They are also talking up the notion of having a transfer budget – with the plan being that whatever he spends will be added to the debts – which should keep Sir Alex F Word happy. But he, like Chelsea, has woken up to the requirements of the 25 player rule next year, and is looking around for young and “home grown” talent.
So there it is: the owners of Man U digging in for the long term, the fans of Chester City having thrown out the old regime and now looking towards a brave new future.
Two opposite ends of the scale – but I would argue that what links them together is the power of the fans. If Chester fans had just sat and moaned, or waved different coloured scarves around, nothing would have happened.
I am particularly grateful to Dany Levy at Supporters Direct his excellent reporting on Chester story on the SD news service.
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